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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The origin of a term


The origin of a term

The origin of the word "quena" has been discussed long and hard in the past. Curiously enough, the most widespread theory is the one that the term would come from Quechua "kjena" or "khoana", meaning "hollow". The statement is part of a legend with no grounds, spread by some uninformed scholars and authors from the first half of the 20th century. Regretfully, this version has become one of the most well established mistakes in the narrative of the "Andean music".

The term "quena" appears in modern Quechua dictionaries as qina or kena, or any of their different spellings: k'ena, qëna, qh'ena, ckena, kk'ena or khena. In all cases the meaning of the word is "a particular type of flute". The Quechua term for "hollow" is chusaq (or any of their different spellings chusaj and chhusac). Therefore, no connection can be made between the two. On the other hand, although the term "quena" is used widely, it is not an original Quechua word. The term "quena" does not appear in any of the first dictionaries and "artes" (grammars) of this indigenous language, as can be proven reviewing Gónzalez Hoguin's work published in 1607. In his dictionary, the second written in Quechua, "flute" is said "pincullu", and the term "hollow" appears as "chhusak". In the famous work by Torres Rubio (published one and a half century later in 1754), "flute" is still said "pincollo" or "pincullu", and "something hollow", "chussac". Both terms have survived till nowadays and have remained almost the same.

The origin of the term "quena" comes in fact from Aymara. It appears in the first Aymara written document, the vocabulary collected by Ludovico Bertonio that was published in Juli, Peru in 1612. In this attestation, "quena quena, ppia ppia, lutu lutu" is described as "something with many holes" and "quena quena pincollo" as "flute made of cane". In the Spanish section it is explained that "flute made of cane" is said "quena quena" while "flute" appears as "pincollo". Since in Aymara the duplication of a term is one way of expressing the plural, it can be inferred that quena quena might originally mean "many holes" and quena quena pincollo, "flute with many holes".

In summary, written evidence suggests that the Aymaras called one of its verticals flutes made of cane with the name of quena quena (which is still used) and such term was adopted in the Quechua language to designate a particular aerophone. The term was not included in the colonial chronicles (i.e. "pincullu" appears on a list of musical instruments elaborated by Juan de Velasco, towards 1789), indicating that the adoption of the term would have occurred later. It can be traced back to romantic literature during the republican period (19th and 20th centuries), and from that time forward the term will appear in several musicological works.


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